For our latest Meet the Makers post, we spoke to Charlotte Gillian, managing director of Somerset-based company Classic Canes, about their traditional manufacturing methods and the perfect Christmas gift ideas...
Can you tell our readers more about the traditional methods of production, and how the process works?
Classic Canes Limited operates a centuries-old forestry system called ‘coppice with standards’, whereby smaller trees are coppiced to produce the raw material for walking sticks, whilst the bigger trees around them are left to grow on for timber. At our woodlands in Somerset, the main woods we coppice are native hardwoods such as ash, hazel and blackthorn. To produce the walking sticks, we cut the trees at about four feet in height, above the browsing height of our roe deer. The resultant shoots grow on for three to four years until they are the correct diameter for walking sticks. They are cut in the winter when the sap is down in the trees. The raw material then dehumidifies in a drying shed until it has given up enough moisture to be dry enough to straighten and work into walking sticks.
How did you get into the business?
My parents bought Warren House and the surrounding woodlands in the late 1970s. They restored the ruined house to live in, meanwhile discovering that the woodland was naturally growing suitable wood for walking sticks. They started supplying walking sticks to local craft shops and soon realised there was sufficient demand for good quality walking sticks to develop a viable business. The company gradually grew so that today we sell nearly 700 different models of walking sticks, seat sticks and umbrellas to retailers in over 40 countries. I grew up with the business but after university worked in the luxury goods industry in marketing. I returned to the business in 2003 and became managing director in 2010.
Which is your favourite material to work with?
Our home-grown ash is extremely interesting. Ash has a very dense grain and is extremely strong, so is ideal for walking sticks. We grow ours on chalk soil, which means they have a unique silvery-grey colour to the bark; it is quite different to and much prettier than ash grown on other soils. It makes a very distinctive walking stick. See the ash knobstick here available on the Oliver Brown site.
From the selection available at Oliver Brown, which would you say was your quintessential item for the season ahead?
The Ramshorn shepherd’s crook on a hazel shaft is always a very popular item in the autumn months for country sports and as a Christmas present. Walking sticks are ideal as Christmas presents because they are practical, useful items as well as attractive accessories and companions.You can find out more about Classic Canes online on their Instagram account, or shop the full walking stick collection at Oliver Brown.